"Toward a Better Understanding of Division of Undergraduate Studies Students Dropped for Poor Scholarship"

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April 2012

On Monday, April 16, 2012, Eric White, Executive Director, Division of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) and Nick Warcholak and Alexander Yin, both Senior Planning and Research Associates in the Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment, spoke with more than 100 attendees at multiple campuses about their findings regarding patterns of actions that lead to a student ultimately being dropped from the University for poor scholarship. White’s concern was driven by the fact that these students often leave the institution with loan debt, but no degree and, having been dropped by the University, will find it difficult to continue their education elsewhere.

photo of Nick Warcholak

Warcholak and Yin analyzed data for 67 DUS undergraduate students for the fall 2010 - spring 2011 year who were dropped for poor scholarship: those students with a cumulative grade point average below 2.00 and a specific number of grade-point deficiencies based on the cumulative number of credits taken. They reviewed data from the data warehouse related to student characteristics (gender, adult learner, citizenship, residency, or veteran status), pre-college academic photo of Alex Yinability (basic skills deficiency, SAT scores, or Evaluation Index score), and college experiences (started in DUS, participation in Greek Life, first semester GPA) for all enrolled DUS students in the fall of 2010 and for the 67 students that were dropped for poor scholarship. They also reviewed the adviser notes on file in the Integrated Student Information System (ISIS). They looked at the number of advisers involved with a student, the types of contact the students had with their advisers, and when the students contacted their advisers. Analysis indicated that the most significant factor in being dropped for poor scholarship was poor academic performance, usually starting in the student’s first semester at Penn State. Additionally, the average time when these students with academic problems first contact their advisers in their last semester was 57.4 calendar days, or approximately one half of the way into the semester.

Warcholak and Yin also reviewed the content of the comments in the adviser notes and found several patterns and themes. In about one photo of Eric Whitethird of the cases, students had family difficulties or personal issues. In about one fourth of the cases, students were having difficulties finding an academic pathway, or their academic performance eliminated their desired pathway. In about half the cases, advisers suggested actions for the student to take to address issues, such as tutoring or meeting with a professor, but the students did not follow up.

The group discussed student and adviser responsibilities, and related University policies. Yin pointed out that the University policy regarding dropping students with less than a 2.00 GPA is more of a retention than a persistence to graduation policy; students who start with a GPA below a 2.00 will have difficulty getting into a major and ultimately graduating. White and some of the attendees brought up the issue of expecting these students to come to see their advisers when they had problems, and the difficulty of getting the students to take that action.

While students are adults and are responsible for their choices, the actions they take or do not take in this case may be with them for life, in terms of debt, lack of education, and resulting employability. White originally set a goal of having no students ‘flunk out’. During the 2011-2012 academic year DUS advisers have been using additional strategies, including academic holds to bring students in to discuss their situation, and late drops or withdrawal to avoid the academic drop outcome. There was a significant decrease in the number of academic drops from fall 2010 to fall 2011, from 22 to 14. Data are not yet available for spring 2012. White encouraged the attendees to find earlier times to intervene with these students. Advisers need to balance the issue of how intrusive to be with their obligation to work with the student as an ally in talking about and evaluating risks and options while the student can still make choices.

Read the full report that inspired this session.

The Quality Advocates Network meets several times each semester to share ideas and examples of improvement and change. To join the Quality Advocates Network mailing list or to learn more about the meetings scheduled, contact the staff at psupia@psu.edu.

The Quality Advocates Network is open to all Penn State faculty, staff, administrators, and students.